Live From Virtuoso: What Makes a Good Luxury Travel Advisor?

matthew upchurchLAS VEGAS – The number of Millennials now choosing the role of luxury travel advisor as a career option continues to rise, as does the number of those changing careers to become travel consultants. The trend was palpable at Virtuoso Travel Week, taking place at the Bellagio Resort & Casino in Las Vegas this week.

Matthew Upchurch, Virtuoso’s chairman and CEO, said that there are so many new entrants to the field of travel advising is one of Virtuoso’s proudest accomplishments and that those just starting out are finding it to be a lucrative career choice.

“Never in all my years in this business have I have seen new travel advisors go from a zero-book of business to multi-million-dollar producers in such a short period of time. I am talking about 25 year olds and I'm talking about career switchers,” he told a gathered group of international journalists at Virtuoso Travel Week. 

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One of the most successful initiatives for Virtuoso in recent years has been to communicate that being a travel advisor provides a career path that can generate a competitive income and a fulfilling lifestyle. The network has greatly intensified its efforts to craft training and educational programs for new entrants that will enable them to ramp up and start earning quickly.

Those efforts have paid off. Just a few years ago, Upchurch said it was notable when, say, he’d meet an attorney who had left his law practice to become a luxury travel advisor. These days, it’s not so unusual. “It’s been very gratifying to see,” he said.

Along those lines, Jay Johnson, owner of Coastline Travel Advisors in Garden Grove, CA, said that two of his top agents are under the age of 30. “One of them does $1.7 million a year and she’s 25 years old, right out of college.” Johnson was one of three Virtuoso advisors who sat on a panel for the media to discuss top travel trends in the luxury market. He noted that his $1.7 million advisor studied anthropology in college, which gave her a strong cultural and travel background.

Technology has aided the rising trend of attracting new advisors to the business, since it’s allowing travel consultants to conduct their business wherever and whenever they choose. Upchurch said that “mobility and social media” are fueling this capability.

“Ten or 15 years ago when you were hired as a travel agent, it would be, ‘Well, here’s your desk and if you’re good, you might get to go on a fun [fam] trip,’” said Upchurch. “Today, new advisers are coming in and thanks to mobile capability, they hit the road. They're posting that they've just been to Bhutan, for example, and their social media posts drive a lot of their new business.”

It’s appealing that the next generation is rediscovering the role of travel advisor as a valid career option, but what do agency managers look for in candidates when they hire?

Johnson of Coastline Travel Advisors said they need to have a passion for travel. “What makes a good adviser is someone who has done a lot of traveling when they were younger, perhaps with their family. You’ve got to love what you do. It’s not selling life insurance or something like that. If you have a passion for travel then you’re going to make a good adviser and be able to tell a story or two.”

Jim Bendt of Pique Travel Design, Excelsior, MN, said he has hired a number of consultants from outside of the travel industry who are under the age of 30. They’ve come from other professional roles and understand the concept of customer service. “It’s really about understanding the bigger picture view and having a work ethic to really deliver,” he said.

Stephanie Anevich of Vision Travel Solutions in Toronto, said a fluid mind is vital. “They have to be entrepreneurial, in my opinion. They have to think out of the box. They have to be able to go into a crowd and talk to people and be able to present themselves in a really nice way. Thinking out of the box is a key for us and so is the ability to be flexible.” 

The recent economic downturn, in a strange way, may have helped to make the career as travel advisor more attractive to some, said Virtuoso’s Upchurch. “I used to joke that before the financial crisis, every young person I met wanted to be an investment banker. Everybody was going to go make millions of dollars. A psychological shift occurred after the financial crisis; a lot of people got laid off and many decided they needed to do something they were really passionate about.” He said Virtuoso’s recruiting efforts experienced a real shift, for the positive, during that time. Being able to provide the tools to train new advisors in the field was also a big help, said Upchurch, pointing to the network’s educational programs that can train new advisors on “exactly how to deliver on a specific set of deliverables.”

Virtuoso is in the midst of its 26th annual Virtuoso Travel Week event; this year it has a reported record number of attendees – 4,420 people from 92 countries. The nearly 354,000 one-to-one meetings over four days are expected to generate $450 million in travel sales.